Two big questions remained after David Cameron’s landmark speech on Britain’s role in Europe this morning: would it do enough to please his eurosceptic backbenchers, and how would Ed Miliband respond?
We got the answer to both at PMQs. We know now that for the moment, Cameron has got his party off his back, and that Labour are not about to promise a referendum of their own.
The atmosphere in the Commons was electric as the leaders took their places. The Tory benches were packed with grinning faces – this looked like being a good day for Cameron, and so it proved. He even got a cheer for starting his first answer by saying: Read more
The 1968 protest which the UK fears Argentina may copy
A week ago, the Sunday Times revealed Whitehall fears about Argentina using the Olympics as a platform for protest against British control of the Falkland Islands. The paper reported:
Ministers are worried about a possible demonstration by Argentine athletes similar to the one staged at the 1968 Games in Mexico City by African-American athletes at the men’s 200m medal ceremony.
Any symbolic gesture by team members would be broadcast worldwide, fuelling tensions between Britain and Argentina. Diplomatic relations between the two countries are already strained.
Since then, Christina Kirchner, the Argentinian president, has tried to reassure anxious Brits and Olympic officials by telling her athletes not to do anything “stupid”. She said:
We’re not stupid. We don’t need to use sport to stand up for our rights. We’ll defend our rights in appropriate forums, like the UN.
Well, just in case the athletes didn’t get the message, Jeremy Browne, the foreign office minister for South America, has put further pressure on the Argentinians. In an interview with the FT, he made it clear the British government would see such a protest as a serious escalation of hostilities (emphasis mine): Read more
Is the government in danger of handing over its reputation for being pro-business to Labour?
William Hague’s message in yesterday’s Sunday Telegraph that businesses should “work harder” to promote growth was certainly bold.
At a time when the economy is stagnating and the government’s strategy is increasingly being questioned, turning round and blaming the sector of the economy you’re relying on to turn that round seems like a reckless strategy.
Before we get on to why it’s not a good idea to blame business for not supporting growth, let’s mention why Hague has a point:
- The govt is implementing the cuts programme many business groups have supported, and is sticking to it.
- Corporation tax is low and getting lower – on its way down to 20 per cent.
- Embassies around the world are pushing UK trade as their top priority, and the prime minister has taken huge business delegations on state visits with him on several occasions.
I wrote a few weeks ago that the number one priority of those at the heart of the coalition, and especially those close to Nick Clegg, was not to have a referendum on Europe. But there are people on his side who think the Lib Dem leader should effectively call the Eurosceptics’ bluff and back a referendum, not just on any new European treaty, but on the UK’s very membership of the union. It is an argument even Clegg used to advance.
Philip Stephens, the FT’s chief political commentator, made this call a few weeks ago in a provocative column (at least for a europhile) entitled Britain’s eurosceptics are right to call for a referendum. In it he argued:
Barring a euro break-up, Britain and its partners are now set on different courses. At some point the divergence will become unsustainable. The Tory sceptics may be right after all. There is a case for an in-or-out referendum. My guess is the sceptics would be sorely disappointed by the outcome. The voters are realists. Much as Brussels may irritate them, they know there is nothing splendid about isolation.
Now YouGov have done some polling that seems to back up Stephens’ conclusions, especially about the outcome of such a referendum. Read more
Douglas Alexander has written a piece for the New Statesman trying to prise open the cracks in the coalition over Europe.
In the run up to this afternoon’s debate on the EU, during which Ed Miliband is expected to paint Cameron as isolated both at home and abroad, the shadow foreign secretary has invited the Lib Dems to work with Labour to get the UK back into the heart of Europe.
The roots of what happened on the night of Thursday 8 December lie deep in Cameron’s failure to modernise the Tory party. Just because he puts party interest before the national interest, there is no reason others should do the same. That is why I make a genuine offer to Liberal Democrats to work with us to try to get a better outcome for Britain, between now and when this agreement is likely to be finally tied down in March. Work can and should start immediately both to win back friends and allies and to consider what rules and procedures can avoid Britain’s further marginalisation.
Nicolas Sarkozy avoids shaking David Cameron's hand
So Britain has isolated itself in Europe by refusing to sign up to a deal to save the eurozone because other countries refused to give the UK specific safeguards to protect the single market and the City of London. Tory backbenchers are delighted, but what does the pro-European Lib Dem half of the coalition make of it?
Anyone expecting a massive bust up at the heart of the coalition will have been dismayed to read Nick Clegg’s statement this morning. The deputy prime minister said:
The demands Britain made for safeguards, on which the Coalition Government was united, were modest and reasonable. They were safeguards for the single market, not just the UK.
What we sought to ensure was to maintain a level playing field in financial services and the single market as a whole. This would have retained the UK’s ability to take tougher, not looser, regulatory action to sort out our banking system.
As Westminster waits for the publication of Sir Gus O’Donnell’s report into whether Liam Fox broke the ministerial code as a result of his friendship with Adam Werritty, Number 10 is drip-feeding new revelations into the public domain.
The latest is that Werritty met other defence ministers: specifically Gerald Howarth and Lord Astor. We don’t know when, where or how often though. Read more
As a former diplomat, you might expect new Tory MP Richard Graham to choose his words carefully, especially because he works as the parliamentary private secretary to FCO minister Lord Howell, and definitely when talking about Israel and the Palestinians. So I was surprised to hear him talking to a fringe event on Sunday describing the Israeli government’s report into last year’s raid by its navy on the Gaza aid flotilla as a “whitewash”.
When talking about the report by the Sri Lankan ‘Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission‘ into the struggle there between government forces and the Tamil Tigers, Graham said:
We know that internal government reports do not have a good track record. The Israeli report into the Gaza flotilla, for example, falls into the whitewash category.
David Cameron looked comfortable and at ease in the House of Commons chamber on Monday afternoon when updating MPs on what has happened in Libya over the summer.
And well he might: the rebels have overtaken Tripoli, Gaddafi is on the run, and the one major controversy – the discovery of papers suggesting British intelligence colluded with the Gaddafi regime in the rendition of terror suspects – happened under the last government.
But as soon as one set of questions about the conflict ends (even Richard Ottaway, the chair of the foreign affairs select committee, who has always been sceptical of the conflict, gave the prime minister credit for the way it has turned out), another begins: namely what happens to our troops now? Read more
The revelations in the FT and elsewhere that MI6 appeared to have a close working relationship with the Gaddafi secret services is providing something of a dilemma for the current government.
One one hand, this is an open goal for the coalition to plunge the knife into Labour: to accuse them of collusion with the Gaddafi regime in torturing Libyan dissidents. And there are signs that Tory MPs are doing just that.
Patrick Mercer, the former chairman of the House of Commons subcommittee on counter-terrorism, said over the weekend:
This document seems to indicate that our intelligence services were getting unhealthily close to practices that the British government at the time and its successors rightly condemn.
I trust that the Foreign Secretary will look into this, despite the fact that it did not happen on his watch.
Syrians protest in Hama
After the brutal crackdown by Bashar al-Assad’s troops on protesters in Syria over the weekend, William Hague was pleased to find the Russians scrapping their earlier reluctance to criticise the regime and join the growing global condemnation of Mr Assad.
His diplomats in New York will use the opportunity to try and push through once more a resolution that failed in June, condemning the violence. The resolution will be reworded to take into account this weekend’s events.
But given Russia’s complex political make-up, no one in the Foreign Office is taking anything for granted. One official warned: “It is not until we have sat in the meeting that we can get into how member states may be thinking.” Read more
Apparently it’s a sign of strength to change your mind – at least that’s what David Cameron said yesterday about the sentencing U-turn.
So how’s this for a sign of strength? The foreign office this morning declared proudly on its website an additional £2.2m in funding for the World Service, headlining the announcement “Massive U-turn on BBC world funding”. (H/T to Tim Montgomerie at Conservative Home for the pic.)